How To Make A Half-Arsed BBC Documentary

As part of its ‘Inside BBC Journalism’ series the BBC College of Journalism has made a short film with documentary maker Martin Small to explain the role of a documentary producer. He talks a bit about the technical side of things, about creating a storyline and turning “a journalistic story into a dramatic story” through “all kinds of dramatic devices” (I think we know what he means there – e.g. the playing of scary-sounding music to signpost bad things such as climate sceptics or an Israeli flag.)

The college’s website also provides a transcript [pdf] of its interview with Small, and it’s amusing to note that his final piece of advice didn’t make the film:

It is only television, and somebody once said to me: ‘If a bus driver fails to turn up to work one morning it’s really, really inconvenient, and bad news for the people standing at the bus stop. They may get very wet; they may get very cold; they may turn up to work late; they may get in trouble with their bosses. But if you make a television programme which isn’t perfect, never mind, there’s one on after you.

Evidently someone at the BBC College thought that particular insight was better left on the cutting room floor.

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9 Responses to How To Make A Half-Arsed BBC Documentary

  1. Guest Who says:

    Evidently someone at the BBC College thought that particular insight was better left on the cutting room floor.’

    Thereby neatly highlighting another key aspect of the documentary maker’s potentially less than ethical armoury: the edit suite.

    Because, if the intent is less to educate and inform and more to enhance narratives or obscure inconveniences, it’s amazing what gets left on the cutting room floor, both at the production company with an eye to the next commission or, as evidenced here, even when it arrives chez Aunty.

    She does like things her way, the minx. Uniquely so. Can’t have the 60M+ world audience not getting just the ‘right’ message, can one?

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    • D B says:

      ‘Thereby neatly highlighting another key aspect of the documentary maker’s potentially less than ethical armoury: the edit suite.’   
       
       
      Yes, there’s something almost postmodern about it. You interview a documentary maker for a film about making documentaries but cut some of the stuff he says about documentary making because it doesn’t fit what you want to convey about making documentaries in your documentary about documentary making.  
       
      I thinkSmall’s “never mind, move on” mentality is quite revealing. He seems to be saying that fobbing off the public with substandard journalistic fare is acceptable because, hey, it’s “only television”. Ah yes, television – that insignificant influence on public opinion.

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      • Guest Who says:

        Ah yes, television – that insignificant influence on public opinion.’

        Something which seems often to be passed over in many of the debates over impartiality, especially in areas of controversy or tribal support.

        This is a £4Bpa PR, A&P organisation with 24/7 access to broadcast and online access throughout the UK and beyond.

        And, unlike more vilified media claimed monopolies, it is uniquely funded by all in this country who seek to use a screen with the capacity to receive a signal…. in 2011, in a world of limitless global IT capability.

        Oh, and unlike my choice of MP based on satisfaction with performance, I don’t get a vote. Ever.

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  2. Brian says:

    Documentaries are planned and scripted well before the camera is switched on in order to be signed off by the backside-safeguarding bureaucracy. Interviews can take hours but that isn’t to get a rounded view of a subject but simply to get a usable segment that matches the script. Thus interviewees are left spitting feathers claiming they didn’t say that in that context. James Delingpole was a recent victim.

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    • Marky says:

      And that truly awful Geert Wilders ‘documentary’ (and you don’t even have to be a fan of Wilders to know how awful it was) in which due to the lack of an interview the program makers who knew what they wanted to convey from the start crafted something of an attack piece. Documentary film makers are more often than not propagandists than they are journalists. It’s not always wrong to have a preconceived notion of what you are after, go out and find real hard evidence of whatever it is and present it fairly, but totally a different thing to create a theory and present it as fact.

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  3. DJ says:

    Same old, same old….  BBC claims to be a  national treasure, gets busted for fraud – Clown Nose On – hey, it’s only television, so chill out and relax, daddeo. Spotlight moves somewhere else – Clown Nose Off – the BBC jibber-jabbers about being a vital bulwark of British Democracy, gets busted for fraud – Clown Nose On….

    [Repeat ad nauseaum]

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  4. Dorian Smith says:

    The BBC College of Journalism, this is the organisation that tells future journalists that the public are so thick, that we can only relate to the building behind them, mentioned in a report, if the on screen journalist points a thumb towards it.

    Otherwise, next time there’s a report on St. Pauls (for example), we’d be at a loss to know what building they are talking about. Thanks BBC College of Journalism, that thumb was really helpful!

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  5. Neal Asher says:

    Today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s chip wrappers. Today’s BBC documentaries are tomorrow’s comedy.

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  6. 5050noline says:

    Quote: ‘…turning “a journalistic story into a dramatic story” through “all kinds of dramatic devices” (I think we know what he means there – e.g. the playing of scary-sounding music to signpost bad things…’ =  Pantomime.

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